Part 2 - Racing Cars Driven by Female Champions

Uncover the inspiring stories of Maria Teresa de Filippis, Denise McCluggage, Lella Lombardi, and Danica Patrick—trailblazing women who shattered barriers in motorsport and left their mark on the racing world.

  • 21 May 2023
  • 6 min read
  • 10 images
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Photo credit: FIA, Formula, Revs Institute

There have been many women who pursued a career as a racing driver in the post-war period and there are still many to this day. Women compete at the same level as their male rivals, and it will not be surprising when one of them – the first but certainly not the last – becomes part of the 20 drivers holding a Formula 1 steering wheel. But Roarington has a special place in its heart for classic cars, which is why our journey, aimed at highlighting the cars with which women have raced at a professional level, will only go as far as Danica Patrick who won an IndyCar race in 2008. Who are the other women who left their mark in motorsport? Their names include Maria Teresa de Filippis, Denise McCluggage, Ada Pace, Lella Lombardi, Marie-Claude Beaumont and, of course, Danica Patrick.

Maria Teresa De Filippis - FIA A young Maria Teresa de Filippis at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix

Petite and fragile, Maria Teresa de Filippis, an Italian from a noble family, with Neapolitan fury in her blood, looked like a sparrow in an eagle’s nest behind the wheel of a Maserati 250 F on the roads of the Principality of Monaco while qualifying for the 1958 Grand Prix. But she was not discouraged. She had made her debut a few weeks earlier at the Syracuse Grand Prix – which was not valid for the World Championship – finishing fifth. She had also won many races with OSCA sport and with Maserati A6GCS, finishing second in the Italian Sport Championship. However, Formula 1 took time. At the Belgian GP, she finished tenth. Although the 250 F was now outdated, her talents were evident, and she was signed by the recognized driver, the Frenchman Jean Behra for the 1959 season to drive a single-seater Porsche built under his guidance. The car was entered in Monaco as Behra-Porsche. But fate was particularly cruel. Many of Maria Teresa's friends had already died in races the previous year, and in 1959, the same fate befell Behra. Maria Teresa was devastated by the event, left the circuit and retired from professional racing for good. However, for the rest of her life, she remained a precious testimonial of Maserati.

Maserati 250F - Gooding Looking at the Maserati 250F in Formula 1, you wonder how a slender girl could have been able to tame it

In the United States, during the same period, Denise McCluggage, a journalist and photographer, met Briggs Cunningham, a driver and constructor who wanted to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. From that moment on, her interest in motorsports became a passion. She was 25 and driven by a burning desire to put herself to the test, a desire that was well rewarded with triumph after triumph with her MG TC Magnette. Her professional life then took her to the NY Herald Tribune where she found new opportunities to grow.

Denise McCluggage Nassau - Revs Institute Journalist, photographer and driver, the American Denise McCluggage became a star in the 1960s

Her trademark white helmet with many small pink dots became quite famous, she drove a Jaguar XK 140, but was offered many other opportunities. The most important was the opportunity to drive a Ferrari 250 GT at Sebring, winning her class and earning her a place in the Hall of Fame of the Circuit. She also gained experience at the Monte Carlo Rally with a colossal Ford Falcon. Throughout her career as a professional driver, where she openly advocated for equal rights for women, she drove the Porsche 550 and Maserati’s as well. A beautiful story that accompanies her legacy on the 88th anniversary of her passing.

Denise McCluggage - Revs With the distinctive pink polka-dotted helmet that made Denise McCluggage recognizable, here on the Porsche

Lella Lombardi was the only female driver to score points in Formula 1 but was unfortunately taken too soon by a terrible disease. She crossed paths with the French driver Marie Claude Beaumont (in reality her real surname was Charmasson, but she changed it in order to race). One of the greatest accomplishments of these two women was their victory in the 2000 Class and fourth place overall at the 1000 Km of Monza in 1975, which was part of the World Sport-Prototype Championship. They achieved this behind the wheel of the beautiful Alpine Renault A441.

Lella Lombarda The Italian Lella Lombardi, the only woman to have scored points in the F1 World Championship

Despite their differences in character, with Lella being a strong-minded and demanding Italian, and Marie Claude a sweet and thoughtful Frenchwoman, they competed together in numerous races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Lella sadly passed away at the age of 51, whereas Marie Claude, who became a journalist and photographer after retiring from racing, still follows Formula 1 professionally. And she's now over 80 years old!

Lella Lombardi Lella Lombardi has raced in many different cars. Here at Monza in 1975 at the 1000km with partner Marie-Claude Beaumont in the Alpine A441

Although Marie Claude focused more on endurance races, competing six times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in rallies, Lella prioritized open-wheel cars. After winning the Italian Formula 850 Championship and the Formula Ford Championship in England, she gradually rose to Formula 3, 5000 with Lola, and then to Formula 1. Her best race, where she finished sixth, was also her most unfortunate one: the Spanish Grand Prix in 1975 held on the old street circuit of Montjuïc, with poor protection for the public and a bad accident involving Rolf Stommelen, which ended up causing the deaths of four spectators. Sadly, Lella couldn't celebrate her result, but she did rejoice in many others, having raced with every type of car and in every category. The cars shown here are just some of the ones she drove with the determination that never left her.

Marie Claude Beaumont - 24 Hours Le Mans Frenchwoman Marie-Claude Beaumont six-time Le Mans 24 Hours protagonist here behind the wheel of the Chevrolet Corvette

Moving on to today, or almost, the name of Danica Sue Patrick stands above all. Born in Beloit, Wisconsin and raised in Illinois, her innate talent combined with a beauty that merges an independent character and timeless femininity, laid the foundations for her professional success in the United Kingdom in minor formulas. Then, back in the USA at Daytona with the Ferrari 550 Prodrive and in Formula Atlantic, where Bobby Rahal saw her at work and invited her to race full time in IndyCar. Danica was 23 years old and in her debut year, she conquered three pole positions and finished fourth overall in Indianapolis, after also leading the race. A phenomenon that was confirmed in the following years, where she also won in Motegi, Japan, becoming the first female driver in IndyCar history to win a race.

Danica Patrick - FIA Danica Patrick, authentic star for many seasons in Indycar

At the age of thirty, she tried her hand at the NASCAR championship, in what are very different races to Indy where she had set the record of 50 consecutive races without a single retirement. The races were rougher, with frequent contacts between cars that were not part of her style. She had less satisfaction than she expected and at 36, she left racing with a romantic farewell: she returned to IndyCar to participate in two final races: the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.

If anyone still has any doubts about the potential of female drivers, it's time to think again.

Danica Patrick - FIA At over 300 km/h on ovals Danica Patrick proved that nothing would stop a woman from becoming World Champion